Supreme Court allows Trump’s ‘public charge’ rule to proceed

The 5-4 ruling would deny green cards to immigrants who use federal aid programs

The "public charge" rule was originally issued last August by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services under Ken Cuccinelli, the agency's acting director. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
The "public charge" rule was originally issued last August by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services under Ken Cuccinelli, the agency's acting director. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted January 27, 2020 at 4:18pm

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that the Trump administration can implement its divisive “public charge” rule, which seeks to withhold citizenship from immigrants the government deems likely to rely on public benefits like Medicaid and Section 8 housing. 

In the 5-4 vote, conservative-leaning justices voted to grant the administration its request to stay a lower court injunction on the rule while the merits of the case continue to be debated in the lower courts. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen G. Breyer voted against the stay. 

The order is the latest in which the high court has intervened in hard-line immigration cases that have been halted by lower courts and issued rulings allowing them to move forward. In his concurring opinion, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, a Trump appointee, railed against nationwide injunctions.

“The rise of nationwide injunctions may just be a sign of our impatient times,” he wrote. “But good judicial decisions are usually tempered by older virtues.” 

Advocates quickly called out the justice’s reasoning as hypocritical. 

“The minute a Democratic president starts issuing regulations that the conservative members of the Supreme Court disagree with, watch them suddenly drop all opposition to nationwide injunctions,” Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, a policy analyst at the American Immigration Council, said on Twitter. 

Under the public charge rule proposed last August by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Trump administration expanded the criteria deeming green card-seeking immigrants as “public charges” if, by their metric, these people were considered likely to use a wide range of benefits such as food stamps, Medicaid and housing assistance in the future. The rule traces back to 19th century language that state and local governments used in cases of emancipated slaves or to bar poor or infirm immigrants.

Dozens of advocacy groups and immigration experts have denounced the rule, which garnered more than 200,000 public comments on its Federal Register notice.  Democrat Rep. Judy Chu of California also took up the issue by introducing legislation (HR 3222) to prevent any federal funds from being used to implement the rule, which she said would “increase xenophobia and bigotry.” 

Numerous federal judges ultimately intervened and blocked the rule from going into effect as scheduled on Oct. 16. A pair of appellate judges later lifted injunctions by two of the federal judges, but a third temporary injunction that was upheld in early January by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court continued to remain in effect across the country. The Justice Department filed an emergency appeal earlier this month asking the Supreme Court to lift that injunction.

Experts have pointed out that not only will the rule disqualify poor immigrants in the United States from becoming citizens, it also would scare away immigrants eligible for public benefits from claiming them for themselves or their U.S.-born children. According to the Migration Policy Institute, an estimated 27 million citizens and noncitizens could be spooked away from enrolling in benefits when this rule goes into effect. 

In addition to immigrant advocates, the rule also drew widespread criticism from the tech industry.

More than 100 companies including Twitter, Microsoft and LinkedIn filed an amicus brief on Jan. 16, saying that Trump’s public charge rule “creates substantial, unprecedented, and unnecessary obstacles for individuals seeking to come to the United States or, once here, to adjust their immigration status.”

The companies argued the rule would negatively impact the U.S. economy and cause drops in the enrollment of health services including the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

“Immigrants will receive fewer public benefits under the Rule, they will cut back their consumption of goods and services, depressing demand throughout the economy,” the group wrote in its brief.

Amnesty International USA called the Supreme Court ruling “shameful.”

“The so-called ‘public charge’ rule is nothing more than a repackaging of demonstrably false and harmful stereotypes about migrants,” said Charanya Krishnaswami, the organization’s Americas advocacy director. “By allowing it to proceed, SCOTUS is allowing the administration to weaponize xenophobia.”